Directed by: Sam Mendes
Starring Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Ralph Fiennes, Léa Seydoux, Naomie Harris, Ben Whishaw, Monica Bellucci, Dave Bautista
The ending of Skyfall revealed that the first three Daniel Craig Bond movies were in reality just one long reboot. From the hat rack and leather padded door in M’s office it is safe to finally conclude that everything till now has only been prologue and only now does the story truly begin. While Craig is unequivocally playing a unique Bond the franchise is determined to hang on to those links to the past that ground the franchise whether they are small things like the aforementioned hat rack and leather padded door or the big things like the Aston Martins, Walther PPKs, and brutal henchman with unique weaponry. This fact was only cemented when the title for this installment of the franchise was announced.
Spectre is a name from the past. It is a global criminal conspiracy that the old legacy Bond battled and bested many times, sometimes at great personal cost. So to hear that Spectre was coming back and that Christoph Waltz had been cast as the head baddie could only make the heart of a Bond fan sing. Reviewing the plot points and character details that are revealed during Spectre it is easy to convince myself that it was a much better movie than it actually is, but then I just have to remember the immense length of the movie and the moments of actual boredom I experienced watching it. Whole new vistas of Bond’s origins are revealed but while watching scenes unfold I found myself curiously unaffected, and just wanting to see how they would wrap it all up. While Spectre will provide hours and hours of fodder for Bond aficionados to discuss I can’t imagine that many of even the most hardcore fans will find it that great of a movie.
The start of Spectre adheres to the standard Bond formula. Action sequence followed by opening credits with the new Bond song playing while artful nudes are plastered all over the movie screen with water, smoke, shadow and/or other opaque substances hiding the interesting bits. In this case the action sequence takes place in Mexico City in the middle of the Day of the Dead festival. He is making his way through the crowd with a beautiful woman on his arm and he has gotten into the spirit of the celebration with a skull mask and a dapper top hat and a black long coat with a skeleton painted on it. Even his tie mimics the vertebra of the neck. There is a single vertebra on the knot of the tie and I couldn’t help but wonder how difficult it must have been to tie that tie and get it to come out exactly right. Bond probably got it on the first try. When the two reach their hotel room instead of hopping into bed with the beautiful woman Bond grabs a rifle and hops out onto the roof. The skeleton outfit being a not too subtle reminder that Bond is more interested in death than any life affirming rituals. He stalks along the roof of several buildings until he comes to the end of the block and observes a meeting of bad guys in a room across the street. Of course Bond being Bond the room is already tapped and he is able to listen in to the conversation. After learning what he needs to he performs what he came here to do. Only it all goes wrong. His target escapes and either he inadvertently or one of the men in the room advertently detonate a bomb that destroys half the block. Bond crawls out of the rubble to spy his prey doing the same and gives chase. Long story short they end up on a helicopter fighting to the death while the pilot scares the hell out of thousands of revelers in the streets of Mexico City. You can guess the outcome and then the opening credits roll and Sam Smith’s Writing’s On The Wall starts to swell. Artful nudes and smoky bullet trails start to float across the screen. This time though we get visions of the last three movies popping up reminding us just where we are in the on going Bond saga. Spectre does a great job or pushing the boundaries of this time honored cliché and the while the new Bond song by Sam Smith is no Goldfinger or The Spy Who Loved Me it’s a big improvement over The Man With the Golden Gun or License to Kill.
Ralph Fiennes returns as M and reads Bond the riot act when he shows back up at MI6. His little adventure in Mexico City was unauthorized and has put the whole 00 program in jeopardy. Bond is relieved from active duty and told to report to Q the next day. Which Bond dutifully does. Also returning for Spectre is Ben Whishaw playing Q. He immediately injects Bond with a concoction of nano something or others that will allow him to track Bond anywhere in the world, quite a useful tool for a secret agent but not for someone who has just been taken off of active duty and told not to leave London. Bond manages to wheedle from Q a promise that the new technology will run into some teething trouble over the next forty-eight hours. As you might expect Bond has no intentions of stopping what he started in Mexico City just because he has been ordered to stand down.
This is when Bond starts unraveling the sweater moving form one connection to the next he works his way into the middle of the maelstrom. Along the way he seduces the wife of a recent adversary (Monica Belluci), engages in an uninspiring car chase through Rome, has a quite good chase between a light aircraft and three SUV’s, puts the daughter of an old nemesis in danger and then rescues her (played by Léa Seydoux), nearly gets Q and Moneypenny (the returning Naomie Harris) fired, fights off the head henchman (menacingly portrayed by Dave Bautista) a couple of times, survives hideous torture and foils the evil ring leaders plot.
Spectre presents me with a bit of a paradox. At some points in the movie it seemed as if there was just too much going on. I actually remember thinking that they should have just split this up into two movies, but there were other times that I had to fight myself from looking at my watch and just wanting them to get on with it and wrap the story up. As I mentioned earlier there are big revelations about Bond’s history in Spectre. Things that should have made my spine tingle. Whether the trailers revealed a bit too much or I was just disengaged I haven’t quite figured out but I can’t help but think I should have cared more. It’s not all bad news. Daniel Craig continues to impress and the chemistry between him and Fiennes, Whishaw and Harris continues to grow, Léa Seydoux’s Dr. Madeline Swann maybe one of the most interesting women Bond has encountered in a long while. Christoph Waltz was as menacing as you would expect if maybe underutilized. The movie did quite a few things right and it sets things up wonderfully for the next installments but that doesn’t quite wipe out the feeling of disappointment I experienced leaving the theatre. Spectre is destined to be one of the movies fans will watch to glean details about Bond’s backstory, or because it lays the foundation for what will come, but unfortunately people are not going to watch it just because it’s a damn good movie. At least we have Skyfall for that.